I used to work with my hands. Not for a living the way our ancestors once did, or as many Asatru still do, but for fun. I owned property in Southwest Michigan and I’d spend weekends chopping wood, wrenching on my motorcycle, or failing miserably at growing a garden in the shadow of the great curly maple that still looms over that house. But now I live in an apartment in the hostile plains of Kansas. I came here raiding a local graduate school for knowledge and loot; I thought all I’d lose when I left was a little space and my lawn mower. But I lost much more than that.
I stopped working with my hands. Sure, I typed papers, or leafed through pages of a book searching for the nugget of wisdom to add to my research, but I didn’t create in the same way anymore. There were no trees to fell with my axe, no logs to split—my axe is propped up in a broom closet. And though I still had my bike I was forbidden from working on it by my lease agreement. I felt my body getting soft, weakening from the 10 hours a day spent in an office chair. But what was worse is that I felt my mind doing the same.
I had nothing to do with my hands. Nothing to occupy my time especially after I graduated. I spent much of my time trying to relax; graduate school is intellectually demanding in a way I didn’t really understand until I started and more than once I thought about quitting. But giving up is not the Asatru way and I would be damned if I was going to quit.
My hands needed something to do. I’ve wanted to return to blacksmithing for a while now, but space is still a concern. I don’t think my apartment manager would want me setting up a forge on my balcony, and I couldn’t find a local blacksmithing collective nearby. I found one near Wichita, two and a half hours from my apartment and I couldn’t justify leaving my son for days on end to keep my hands active.
I still wanted to create something tangible, though. I wanted to start with raw material and transform it into something new. Like many Asatru I have a fascination with blades so I thought about work I could do that involved axes or knives. Eventually I settled on carving. This initially came from my desire to have small carved idols representing the gods in my home. I could, of course, buy them, but there is a great deal of pride in making something yourself.
Naturally, I was terrible at carving at first. I started carving very simple Mjolnir pendants for friends—a new one every night. Each time I carved something a little more intricate. Something more difficult. Instead of straight lines I tried angles, or curves. I made the handles rounded like a real hammer and made the pommel an intricate, multifaceted shape.
My hands grew defter at carving. I made fewer mistakes, I dragged the knife through my thumb less, and most importantly I had something I could focus on. Something I created. Some small item to hold and show and be proud of the thing I brought into being. While I still haven’t
tackled carving Thor, or the One-Eyed god, I have made my son a toy-sized axe and a small horse with a hemp string bridle.
The more I work with my hands, the more centered I feel. The more in-control of myself. I find that the other things I do in my life are enhanced because I am better able to focus on one task. Some call it mindfulness, some Zen, I’m not sure if it has an equivalent word for heathens but I think we can mark it up to the value of hard work followed by our ancestors and the gods. The benefits to mind and body that come from the focus found in working with your hands are hard to explain, but ever present.